We received a huge response to our recent blog post about the summer reading list that we send each year to incoming students. In particular, we received a lovely email from J. Michael Thornton ’86 that includes a list of books that have been influential in his life and work. We were pleased to discover that the Conway library already has nearly all of his recommended titles! We’ve included his letter below, along with links to the works he mentions.


“I liked seeing What We’re Reading on the Conway School Blog. While I attended CSLD in 1985-86, I tried to read every book in the library on Delabarre Avenue. Don Walker mentioned that there were few people of his liking who were nature writers, but of course that field greatly expanded over the last decades*. After graduating, I worked as a Landscape Designer for twelve years in Denver where I was born. I switched careers in 1998 and eventually taught AP Language and Literature courses at Denver School of the Arts.

Anne Spirn in The Granite Garden inspired me for the attention she paid to recovering urban landscapes; Don Walker recommended May Watts’ Reading the Landscape of America, which became a favorite alongside J.B. Jackson’s books and John Stilgoe’s Common Landscape of America and Borderland. I tend to favor books that detail the history of the landscape, but now find myself reading novels that focus on different aspects of the environment: North Woods by Daniel Mason, and my favorite for many years, The Overstory by Richard Powers. For a long historical examination, read Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory. PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon could be a guide for the close examination of a single settlement. E.O. Wilson’s Biophilia sets the standard for a scientific exploration of the environment – I used it in my upper level classes on aesthetics and the environment. Recent winners in the armchair category of nature writing might include Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, Foster’s Being a Beast, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek should be required reading for all students of nature, and if people crave more poetics, they might try the verse of John Clare, the Peasant Poet. I have often found the best writing about nature and the landscape in fiction, so John Steinbeck has often caught me up in his writing of the West and the Sea of Cortez. 

These are a few books that I have found to be relevant, even exquisite in their awareness of the landscape and nature. After seeing Anne Spirn’s The Language of Landscape noted in the Blog, I intend to take that up, and will shelve it alongside Home Ground, edited by Lopez and Gwartney, and Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, two glossaries that I enjoy consulting from time to time.”

*The original location of the school was on Delabarre Avenue in Conway, and Don Walker was Conway’s second director, serving from 1992-2005.

Recommended book titles



Thanks to J. Michael Thornton for this informative contribution!